News Box

Digital Rights in the Time of COVID-19

BIRN and SHARE Foundation are bringing you the latest updates and cases of arbitrary arrests, surveillance, phone tapping, privacy breaches and other digital rights violations as countries of Central and Southeast Europe impose emergency legislation to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. 

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In response to the coronavirus pandemic, some governments are enhancing surveillance, increasing censorship, and restricting the free flow of information. As our lives moved from the public to the digital sphere, many freedoms were also suspended, while the burden of responsibility for violations fell on citizens as governments imposed restrictions that, in many cases, flouted normal standards of human rights.

Just in the last two weeks, 80 people have been arrested, some of them jailed, for spreading fake news and disinformation, with the most draconian examples in Turkey, Serbia, Hungary and Montenegro.

Governments in Montenegro and Moldova made public the personal health data of people infected with COVID-19, while official websites and hospital computer systems suffered cyberattacks in Croatia and Romania. Some countries like Slovakia are considering lifting rights enshrined under the EU General Data Protection Regulation, while Serbia imposed surveillance and phone tracking to limit freedom of movement.

 

Russia to Stop Restrictions on Media Under the Auspice of the Coronavirus

ARTICLE 19 has warned about Russia’s recent legislation introducing new restrictions on freedom of expression, ostensibly in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The two laws signed by President Putin on 1 April impose harsh penalties on media organisations and individuals for spreading “knowingly false information” related to natural or man-made emergencies. This legislation comes on top of the existing prohibition of “false information”, which ARTICLE 19 found highly problematic and incompatible with international human rights standards. We call on the Russian Government to repeal the legislation.

Read more here

Republika Srpska Penalises Spread of Panic and Fake News

A decree prohibiting spreading panic and disorder during a state of emergency came into force on Tuesday in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska (RS).

The legislation stipulates fines for individuals and companies that spread panic and fake news via the media and social networks in the range of 500 to 4,500 euros.

Opposition parties in RS called the regulation controversial, and claimed it limits freedom of expression.

Central and Eastern Europe Freedom of Information Rights ‘Postponed’

Citing the fight against COVID-19, authorities in a number of Central and Eastern European countries have extended the amount of time state bodies have to respond to freedom of information, FOI, requests, part of what media watchdogs say is a worrying crackdown on press freedom since the onset of the pandemic.

Read more here

Croatian Police Use Drones to Catch Rule Breakers

Police from the Osijek-Baranja County in Croatia on Monday reported recording several violations of measures implemented by National Civil Protection Authorities during the weekend, including several young men playing on a football field in the eastern city of Osijek, which was discovered by a drone.

Police said officers rapidly intervened and registered the young men and removed them from the pitch, and that the State Inspectorate was informed about the event.

Last week, the regional office in Osijek of the Civil Protection Authorities introduced aerial surveillance systems, using drones to monitor implementation of social distancing measures.

Malware Sent to Emails on Behalf of Hospitals

Emails were sent on behalf of local hospitals stating that recipients have been in contact with colleagues, friends or family members who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. The user is then asked to go to the nearest hospital to complete tests after completing and printing an attached form, which actually contains malware code.

Hate Speech on Social Media Towards Quarantined Citizens

A man published a post on Facebook in which he called for the public lynching of citizens that are in quarantine, and calling for the hotels where they are staying to be burned down. The police announced that they have launched an investigation into the case.

Municipal Website Publishes Personal Data of an Infected Person

The municipality of Sid in northern Serbia published the personal data of a citizen confirmed as infected with COVID-19. The person’s initials, age, street address and workplace were published on the municipal website.

Outcome: The Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection of Serbia has initiated an oversight proceeding because of this case

COVID-19: Political Interference in the Media in Kosovo

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) calls on media in Kosovo to refrain from intensifying tensions in a health crisis. The quarantine of the city of North Mitrovica has resulted in inappropriate and unethical media coverage. The EFJ strongly denounces these discrepancies which show strong political interference in some media in Kosovo.

Read more here

Croatian Citizen Spread Fake News About Testing Positive for COVID-19

On Saturday, the Croaitan daily Vecernji list reported that a 34-year-old woman from the country’s Vrbovec area spread panic on social media, announcing that she was infected with the coronavirus.

“This lie has not only annoyed her friends and acquaintances but also colleagues who work with her, who eventually reported it to the police,” the newspaper said.

She will face a criminal charge for spreading fake news.

Serbian Government Withdraws Decision to Control Information on COVID-19

The government in Serbia officially withdrew a decision allowing the central Crisis Staff to receive all local COVID-19-related information and decide on what should be released to the public.

The controversial decision also said that all the information obtained from “unauthorised” sources “cannot be considered accurate and verified,” and threatened to “apply regulations relating to liability and legal consequences for the spread of misinformation in a state of emergency”.

One journalist was arrested after this legislation came into force, but she was released the next morning.

Serbian Government to Centralise COVID-19 Patient Data

The government in Serbia on Friday decided to establish a “unique and centralised software solution – COVID-19 Information System” with all coronavirus-related data about citizens. Both the Interior and Defence ministries will have access to this information.

According to the decision, the central base will have data on “who was cured or died from the diseases caused by COVID-19, data on persons who have been tested (positive or negative for COVID-19), persons who have been told to self-isolate or were put in facilities for the safe accommodation of the population.”

The system will be launched by the Public Health Institute “Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut”, with the technical support from the Office for Information Technology and Electronic Governance and the Republican Health Insurance Fund.

Pseudonymized data should be further distributed to the public.

One Person Arrested in Bosnia and Herzegovina Over Facebook Threats

One person was arrested in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Saturday, after threatening the police on his Facebook page. The suspect had previously been fined for not complying with the government’s curfew, posting several threats to the police in his hometown of Bijeljina.

Croatian Pensioners Call on Public Against Politician’s Statements on Social Media

The Croatian Pensioners’ Union reacted on Friday evening in a press release to Croatian MP Ivan Pernar, after he shared posts on his official Facebook profile that relativised and downplayed the dangers of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The Union described the posts, writing “they called to abolish measures to prevent the spread of the infection, inhumanly explaining that older people have to die anyway”.

“On his Facebook page with more than 300,000 followers, Pernar even made a poll that offers two answers: ‘Every life matters’ and ‘One must die from something’,” the Union wrote, adding that is particularly worrying that 64 per cent of those who answered, “accepted his thesis that one must die from something, especially if you are old”.

“The Croatian Pensioners’ Union, therefore, calls on the public to condemn Pernar’s actions because they are hate speech against the elderly.”

List of Montenegrins With COVID-19 Published on Social Networks

The Montenegrin government has called for an investigation into the publication of a list with names of citizens who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus on social media. On Friday, officials warned that this violates basic human rights. “Government expects institutions to take urgent action and inform the public of the result of the investigation,” it posted on Twitter.

The Montenegrin NGO, Civic Alliance, warned that publishing names of patients on social media can lead to serious consequences. “We have to respect people’s privacy and stop the stigmatisations of infected citizens,” said the NGO.

Istanbul Police Drones Tell People to Stay Home

The Istanbul Police Department has started to use drones equipped with loudspeakers to urge people to return to their homes.

When the drone detects a person in the street, it plays a recorded message.

“I am a police drone. Dear Istanbullites, staying home is vitally important for you and your loved ones’ health. Please do not go out unless it is unavoidable,” the drone message says.

False Pandemic Facebook Page Attacks Journalist

Nova S journalist Ana Lalic was targeted with a sponsored Facebook post on the Facebook page “COVID 19 Serbia”, which is not the official page of the pandemic response. Among other things, the post claimed that “she spread false news on the lack of equipment and medicine in the Vojvodina Clinical Centre” and that she was an example of “ultimate unprofessionalism”.

Defence Minister Denounces Fake News on Aerial Disinfection

Romania’s Defence Minister on Facebook denounced the circulation via WhatsApp of a piece of fake news informing the public about a supposed campaign of disinfection to be conducted by army helicopters in Bucharest. The message asked people to stay at home and close their windows and doors during the false disinfection operation, to avoid being harmed by the chemicals being sprayed from the helicopters. Outcome: The army denied having any such plans and asked Romanians not to believe and distribute such messages.

False Information Spread About Maternity Hospital Closure in Belgrade

Posts about maternity hospital in the centre of Belgrade being closed have been spread on social media. The information is apparently false and the director of this institution said to Serbian daily BLIC that this hospital is working regularly.

CoE Commissioner Accuses Governments of Limiting Press Freedom

The challenges that governments face during the COVID-19 pandemic are no excuse for clamping down on press freedom and restricting access to information, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic said on Friday.  She said various governments were adopting regulations that “clearly risk hampering the work of journalists”, singling out Hungary, Russia, Azerbaijan, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Armenia.

“In Romania, a decree allows the authorities to remove content and block websites where this content provides ‘false information’ … without the possibility to appeal,” she said. In Bosnia, she added, “decrees and legislative proposals aimed at punishing the circulation of information that can cause panic run the risk of limiting the work of journalists”. She also said that although “timely information is essential for the public … the filtering of information and delays in responses to freedom of information requests have been observed in several member states”.

In the Czech Republic, Serbia and Italy, she noted, journalists had been “prevented from attending press conferences, obtaining information from health authorities or documenting the operations of law enforcement officials”. She urged all Council of Europe member states to preserve media freedom and ensure that any measures to combat disinformation are proportionate and subject to regular oversight.

“Countries which have introduced restrictions that do not meet these standards must repeal them as a matter of urgency,” Mijatovic said.

Government in Serbia Legalised Online Criminal Trials

The Serbian government on Thursday issued a decree legalising online criminal trials for those in custody.

The regulation says that if judges “find that the presence of the accused in custody has been made difficult because of the risk of the proliferation of infectious diseases, they may decide that the defendant’s participation shall be ensured through technical means.”

Courts in Serbia have already continued trials via Skype to ensure those accused would not break self-isolation measures.

Fake News on Online Exams Circulating on Social Networks

Srednja.hr, a Croatian website that covers educational issues, reported on Thursday that fabricated screenshots of their website were circulating on social networks. The images allegedly show an article from the website, stating that exams for students attending online classes amid the coronavirus epidemic will be ‘conducted via [Microsoft] Word’. Students would then have to turn on their cameras to take said test, and also sit oral exams via Skype.

Media stressed that this information is not correct and that the instructions on how to evaluate students in distance learning have not yet been issued by the Ministry of Education.

Compilation of Legal Measures Concerning the Right to Information (RTI) Obligations

On this page you can find a compilation of legal measures which temporarily alter or even suspend right to information (RTI) obligations due to COVID-19. The first part contains an alphabetic list of any countries which have adopted formal measures, along with a short description of those measures. For the purposes of this list, we are including laws and decrees, as well as formal policy statements, but not informal statements, announcements or practices. We are including here cases where measures, following introduction, have been overturned or repealed, so as to provide a historical record of all such measures.

The second part contains other relevant information, such as formal measures that have been proposed or are under discussion or reports of such measures that we have been unable to confirm. This page only tracks information about formal changes, however, and does not contain information on implementation or announcements.

Read more here

Four Face Charges for Spreading False Information

Media in Croatia reported on March 30 that police had filed a report against four persons who posted unconfirmed information about the COVID-19 epidemic, including the number of people tested and infected in the Virovitica-Podravina County, on social networks and in comments below
online articles.

On April 2, Virovitica-Podravina County police confirmed to BIRN that four persons had been reported for the misdemeanour of “fabricating or spreading fake news” and now faced criminal charges.

Counter-Terrorism Police in Albania Seek Punishment Spreading COVID-19 Conspiracy

Albania’s counter-terrorism police force is seeking penal charges for about ten people for allegedly using Facebook to spread fake news.

Local media reports that one social media user said there is a plot to impoverish people in Europe, to cause social uproar and suggesting coronavirus was a biological weapon.

The police collected the information by observing Facebook posts and comments.

Human Rights and Civil Liberties Organisations: Don’t Use the Coronavirus Pandemic as Cover for Expanding Digital Surveillance

Access Now, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Privacy International, Share Foundation and more than 100 human rights and civil liberties organisations and consumer groups from all over the world are uniting to tell governments not to use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover to usher in digital surveillance.

In a joint statement, the signing organisations urge governments to show leadership in tackling the pandemic in a way that ensures any use of digital technologies to track and monitor individuals and populations is carried out strictly in line with human rights.

Read more here

Journalist Arrested for Article about Hospital Conditions

A journalist from the media outlet Nova S portal was arrested at her home on Wednesday over a text she wrote on allegedly bad working conditions and the lack of protective equipment for medical staff during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Vojvodina Clinical Centre. She was detained for 48 hours in police custody. Police intervened after the hospital issued a statement accusing the journalist of spreading false information about conditions in the clinic and of “disturbing the public and damaging the reputation of the health institution”.

Outcome: Journalist arrested, the police confiscated two of her phones and a computer. She was released from detention on April 2.

Read more here

Fake News about Ban on Tourist Vessels Denounced

On April 1, the Croatian government dismissed a fake news report spread on social media that it had banned tourist vessels from Croatian waters from April 1 to July 31. The government said that a document, which supposedly showed the alleged decision to ban the passage of tourist vessels from the Croatian part of the Adriatic Sea, was completely false, as the government has not adopted any such decision.

Man Arrested for Circulating False Information Released

Serbia on Wednesday arrested a 34-year-old man over a tweet, on suspicion of spreading misinformation about the 24-hour curfew. On Wednesday evening, media reported that he had been released, as he was not the original author of the false report. He told police that he was not the author of this information and had got it from his wife, who works at the Foreign Ministry. Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said the police would continue to seek for whoever was responsible for the report.

Related updated title: Man arrested in Serbia for Spreading Fake News on Twitter

Related update date: 1.4.2020.

Doctor Target of Misogyny on Social Media

Deputy Director of the Institute for Public Health of Serbia Dr Darija Kisic Tepavcevic, one of Serbia’s main experts on the COVID-19 response, has been targeted with misogynistic insults on social media, mainly commenting on her appearance. The insults have been condemned by Serbia’s Equality Commissioner.

Blog: “For Turkish Journalists, Fear of Contracting COVID-19 Competes with Fear of Arrest”

Turkey has taken hundreds of people into police custody for “provocative” social media posts about the pandemic, as stated by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on March 25. Government media watchdog RTÜK fined three TV channels due to their reporting on the coronavirus, according to news reports, and police have either taken into custody or summoned for questioning at least eight journalists about their coronavirus stories or tweets in March, CPJ has found.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) spoke to journalist Evrim Kepenek, who works in Istanbul, about her work during the pandemic.

Read more here

MOSS launched COVID-19 Solutions Fund

Mozilla created a COVID-19 Solutions Fund as part of the Mozilla Open Source Support Program (MOSS). Through this fund, they will provide awards of up to $50,000 each to open source technology projects which are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in some way.

Read more here

CoE Urged to Stop Countries Abusing Pandemic to Curb Freedoms

Singling out Hungary, Slovenia and the Czech Republic as especially worrying examples, ten human rights organisations including Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders have written to the Council of Europe and other official bodies, urging them to address the danger of governments misusing the coronavirus crisis to pursue authoritarian policies.

Read more here

Person Prosecuted for Spreading Misinformation on COVID-19 in Kosovo

Kosovo Police have identified a suspect who allegedly circulated a text message with misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The message invited citizens to be tested for the coronavirus at Kosovo University Clinical Center (UCCK), claiming that due to their blood type, they were predisposed to the disease.

Kosovo Police will prosecute this as a criminal case.

Fake Doctor Spreads False Information on Pandemic

Police from the town of Porec reported on April 1 that after an anonymous report by a citizen, they suspected a 29-year-old woman of spreading fake news on a social network. According to the police, the suspect falsely presented herself as a doctor working at a hospital in the town of Pula, sharing tips and giving false information about the number of COVID-19 patients in the area, and “so disturbing the citizens”. An indictment has been filed against the woman for violating the Law on Misdemeanors Against Public Order and Peace.

#ProtectDemocracyDuringCorona Started Online Petition

Members of the European Parliament and Civil Society Organisations launched an online petition demanding democratic control of state measures taken in light of the Corona Pandemic.

Read more here

Man arrested in Serbia for Spreading Fake News on Twitter

Police in Serbia arrested a person on Wednesday under suspicion of spreading panic and causing disorder by spreading fake news on Twitter saying the country would implement of 24-hours-long curfew.

On Tuesday evening, Serbian Interior Minister warned citizens that disinformation was circulating on social networks, about the alleged new government measure to impose a 24 hour curfew. Serbian tabloid, Informer, claimed that the fake news was being spread via SMS.

This notification was also published on COVID19.rs.

Facebook User Threatens Citizens Who Report Violations of Self-isolation

On March 31, Croatian media reported that a citizen who has been prescribed self-isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19 posted a video of himself threatening citizens who are reporting violations of self-isolation orders to the authorities. He also called for violence, saying that some people are organized and ready to fight. The media reported that police had intervened and started a criminal investigation.

Serbian Govt Takes Control of Information Flow About Pandemic

Under new rules on the flow of information about the coronavirus, local crisis headquarters or health institutions can no longer talk directly to the public but must send all their data to the national crisis staff – which will then transmit it to the public.

Serbian Govt Announce an Online COVID-19 Test

An online COVID-19 test has been available to all health insurance carriers in Serbia on Wednesday. Once taken, the findings are automatically sent to a physician working in the country’s 24-hour Health Centres.

The portal is to function as a self-assessment tool from which users can receive follow-up information and directly communicate and ask questions of medical professionals.

Serbian Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic, explained on Twitter that the system works by simply logging in with a person’s health insurance number.

“We aim to reduce congestion and waiting and speed up the healing process. This is every individual’s struggle and we will only win together,” she said.

Telekom Srbija Users Receive SMS From “COVID-19 Crisis Staff”

Users of Serbia-owned mobile operator, Telekom Srbija, received a text message on Tuesday evening from the COVID-19 crisis staff, saying the country was “approaching a scenario similar to Italy, Spain” on Tuesday evening.

“Situation is dramatic. We are approaching scenario from Italy and Spain. Please stay at home” the message read.

It was signed by the “crisis staff for the suppression of infectious diseases COVID-19” and instead of telephone number it was written “Covid19”.

Message caused outrage on social networks and Telekom itself explained on Twitter it was “generic and sent by crisis staff”.

Belarusian Journalist Arrested for Criticizing president’s Covid-19 Approach

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for the immediate release of a Belarusian news website editor who is facing up to ten years in prison on a corruption charge after criticizing the president’s relaxed approach to the Covid-19 epidemic.

His arrest came three days after he published an editorial – headlined “Who is sowing panic about coronavirus, the president or websites and TV channels?”

The Belarusian government is trying to intimidate independent media outlets, RSF says.

Read more here

RSF Launches Tracker 19 to Track Covid-19’s Impact on Press Freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is launching Tracker-19 to monitor and evaluate the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on journalism and to offer recommendations on how to defend the right to information.

Read more here

Govt Posts Screenshots of Politicians’ Private Messages

The North Macedonian government posted on its website screenshots of private communications between state secretary Dragi Raskovski and opposition VMRO-DPMNE leader Hristijan Mickovski. The government claims to have published the material to show how Mickovski was pressuring government officials over their efforts to deal with the coronavirus crisis.

Council of Europe: “Saving Lives, Respecting Data Protection”

Alessandra Pierucci, Chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Convention 108, and Jean-Philippe Walter, Data Protection Commissioner of the Council of Europe, insist that personal data be protected despite the global COVID-19 pandemic and in the various measures taken to prevent the virus’ spread that can put these rights at risk.

The Council of Europe has developed a series of recommendations and guidelines that can help governments, authorities, employers make better decisions in the current circumstances.

Read more here

List of COVID-19 Patients Circulated on Croatian Island

Local media outlet SibenikIN reported on March 31 that a message containing a list of infected patients has been shared among people living on the Croatian island of Murter, where 17 people are infected with the coronavirus. A journalist from SibenikIN told BIRN that his sources reported to him that the list is being circulated in various ways, via text message, Viber or WhatsApp.

The local police office confirmed to BIRN that it has been alerted about the issue and that “police are conducting investigations and will, in accordance with the law in force, take measures and actions prescribed by the law”.

COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker

The COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker monitors government responses to the pandemic that affect civic freedoms and human rights, focusing on emergency laws.

The tracker is a collaborative effort by the ICNL, ECNL, and their global network of partners, with generous research support from the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin.

The ICNL has also launched an issue page where they presented key resources on how the coronavirus response is impacting civic space and the existing international law framework on upholding human rights during the crisis.

 

Tracking Cell Phones Not Prevention Against Coronavirus, Croatian NGOs Warn

Forty-four civil society organisations in Croatia rang the alarm over a proposed amendment to the Electronic Communications Act on Tuesday, warning that “monitoring every cell phone in the country is not a measure to protect citizens from the coronavirus but an unnecessary violation of human rights”.

“We all have given up important activities, shown patience, responsibility and trust towards competent institutions during this time. However, this trust will be undermined if the measures taken are not carefully focused on combating the infection and its consequences,” the organisations said in a press release.

As BIRN reported last week, the law change would allow authorities to monitor communications devices of people undergoing self-isolation, worrying opposition MPs and others – who fear that it will undermine important freedoms.

Battling Coronavirus, Moldova Targets Unwanted Media ‘Opinion’

A short-lived order for media in Moldova to refrain from printing or broadcasting ‘opinion’ and to convey only the position of authorities during a state of emergency imposed to aid the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic has set alarm bells ringing in the former Soviet republic.

Read more here

Recommendations on Privacy and Data Protection in the Fight Against COVID-19

Access Now published a report that contains recommendations for governments on how to develop measures to tackle #COVID19 in a rights-respecting manner.

Access Now’s Recommendations on Privacy and Data Protection in the Fight against COVID-19 focuses on three categories of measures that authorities have prominently advanced around the world: (1) collection and use of health data, (2) tracking and geolocation, and (3) public-private partnerships.

Read more here

Scam Promising Big Prize Winning

A scam is spreading in sponsored Facebook posts that promises everyone will get a €200 bonus when gambled, will earn users a “fabulous fortune”. However, some amount of real money must be paid to participate in the “game”

Croatian Politician Downplays Danger of COVID-19

A Croatian MP, Ivan Pernar, has shared posts on his official Facebook profile that relativise and downplay the danger of the COVID-19 epidemic. One claims that “the story about quarantine is one big craze introduced by the Chinese to suppress protests in Hong Kong”. Another post urges citizens
to leave their homes, against recommendations of competent health institutions who advise staying indoors.

Politician Arrested for Posting ‘False News’ on Facebook

The President of the Republican Party, Nikola Sandulovic, was arrested for a Facebook post on suspicion of having committed the crimes of causing panic and unrest, and of obstructing justice and preventing a public servant from performing an official act.

He will be detained for 48 hours, after which he will be brought before the public prosecutor. The reason was a Facebook video that he published, which reportedly “contained false news and thus influenced the enforcement of decisions and measures to combat the coronavirus”. He also “threatened to obstruct the public prosecutor in the exercise of prosecutorial function, but also threatened to use force against police officers who have taken official measures against him within their authority”.

Organisations Call On Slovenian Govt to Stop Harassing Investigative Journalist

Slovenian investigative journalist and correspondent of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Blaž Zaga has been targeted by a hate campaign fueled by the government on social networks and in the media since he sent an official Freedom of Information Request on the COVID-19 pandemic to the authorities in Ljubljana.

In a letter addressed to the Minister of Interior Aleš Hojs on Monday 23 March, the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), RSF and five other organisations voice their concern regarding the security of the journalist. In the absence of a response from the authorities, RSF and the other organisations have decided to make this correspondence public.

The common letter calls on the Slovenian government to grant journalists their right to report on the sanitary crisis freely and independently, but also to guarantee them an open access to information.

Read more here

Hungarian Parliament Passed ‘Bill on Protection against Coronavirus’

Hungarian parliament passed ‘Bill on Protection against Coronavirus’ by a supermajority today. Law lets Orban-led government rule by decree, and opposition parties and human rights groups have warned that it will give govt unlimited power.

Read more about the ‘Bill on Protection against Coronavirus’

 

Truck Driver Detained in Turkey for Spreading “Fake News on Social Media Platforms”

Malik Baran Yılmaz, a Turkish truck driver, was detained on Sunday for spreading fake news on social media platforms.  

“You say stay home, how can I stay home? I am not retired, I am not a public servant, I am not rich, I am a worker, and I am a truck driver. If I do not work there is no bread for me and I cannot pay my bills and rent. Not paying those is worse than death,” he said in a TikTok video.

“This virus cannot kill me but your system will kill me,” he added.

Yilmaz was later released but he’s banned from travelling abroad and a criminal case was opened against him.

Man Arrested for Threatening Police on Facebook

A 34-year-old man from the southern Serbian town of Leskovac has been arrested and faces criminal charges because of a post on Facebook in which, according to the official statement, he “threatened to use force against police officers if they try to undertake official actions against him during the curfew”.

He is charged with attempting to prevent a public servant from performing an official act and will be detained for 48 hours – after which he will be brought before the public prosecutor in Leskovac to hear the criminal charges.

Turkey Opened Over 400 Investigations Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Turkish Justice Minister, Abdulhamit Gul, announced that the Prosecution Office began legal investigations into 459 people in fifty-eight different cities across the country amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

“385 people who manipulated the news and social media posts, eight people who insulted elderly people, 55 people who stockpiled goods for the black market, and eleven people who violate quarantine measures are subjects of these investigations,” Gul said.

Concerns about SMS Messages Sent on Extended Isolation

A number of citizens of Serbia have received SMS messages from the government saying that their house isolation period is extended for another 14 days, if they haven’t already been issued with a 28-day isolation measure. The messages were supposedly sent to the phone numbers of all citizens who had entered Serbia after March 14. What is unclear is how the government got hold of their private mobile numbers, and what the legal basis for this action was.

Former Info Commissioner Targeted by false Facebook Page

Lawyer Rodoljub Sabic was the target of insults and disinformation on the Facebook page “COVID 19 Serbia”, which is not the official page of the pandemic response. The former Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection is well known for his public criticism of the Serbian government.

Court Forbids Citizen from Using Twitter

The Basic Court in the town of Cacak has banned a citizen from communicating with other Twitter users, based on suspicion that he committed the crime impersonation, which applies to false representation as official and military personnel.

Best Practices for Using Data during a Crisis

For 15 years, Palantir has helped institutions use data effectively yet responsibly. They have recommended a set of principles that organizations combating COVID-19 should follow to maintain this balance while using data science and technology to advantage in their response.

 

Read more here

As Schools Close Over Coronavirus, Protect Kids’ Privacy in Online Learning

The educational disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in speed and scale. As of today, over 160 countries have closed schools. Education authorities are scrambling to provide remote learning for more than 87% of the world’s student population now missing class. But in the frantic rush to figure out which internet education technologies – EdTech – to use, governments and schools need to factor data privacy considerations in their selection criteria, Human Rights Watch said.

Read more here

Over 1,000 Prosecuted for Breaking Curfew in Serbia

So far, 1,253 people in Serbia were prosecuted for breaking the country’s curfew while 678 people were caught violating self-isolation, Police Director, Vladimir Rebic, said in an interview on Sunday.

He told local media that on a daily basis, between 100 and 200 people have violated the curfew. He added that so far 303 elderly people violated their ban on movement.

Croatian Government Supported by Citizens in Fight Against COVID-19

On Saturday evening, Croatian television network, Nova TV, published an opinion survey about the government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic.

According to a survey conducted by IPSOS, the Croatian government has enormous support in its fight against COVID-19, with 94 per cent of citizens believe that it is taking appropriate measures.

Since mid-March, a series of measures were put in place to ensure stricter social distancing measure to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus.

Hate Speech on Social Networks towards Quarantined Citizens Returning from Malta

In the past couple of days there has been an increase in hate speech on social networks against Macedonian citizens returning home from Malta, and are isolated in quarantines in different cities. There are claims, especially aimed at those who are isolated in the city of Bitola, that they will spread the coronavirus and infect Bitola’s residents by transmitting it through the air, and through the windows in the hotel where they have been quarantined.

Spreading Rumours on Social Networks about People Infected with the Coronavirus

Several incidents have been registered on social networks where there has been a spread of rumours about people infected with COVID-19, working in some of Skopje’s biggest supermarkets. Health authorities have not confirmed such cases in their daily press conferences about coronavirus-related developments.

Open Letter: Civil Society Urges Member States to Respect the Principles of the Law in Terrorist Content Online Regulation

On 27 March 2020, European Digital Rights (EDRi) and 12 of its member organizations sent an open letter to representatives of Member States in the Council of the EU. In the letter, we voice our deep concern over the proposed legislation on the regulation of terrorist content online and what we view as serious potential threats to fundamental rights of privacy, freedom of expression, etc.

You can read the letter here (pdf)

Virus Updates Map Launched in Bosnia

The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Federation entity has launched a website with a map offering live updated tracking of cases of COVID-19 for this part of the country. The map can be found here.

Citizens Receive Fraudulent Banking Messages

Citizens of Serbia received fraudulent SMS messages asking them, as bank clients, to provide their personal data, such as unique master citizens number, bank account numbers etc, regarding the payment of pensions. The Serbian Bank Association warned that this was fraud and the police asked citizens to report if they received such messages.

Journalist Targeted by False Facebook Page

A Beta news agency editor, Dragan Janjic, was targeted as a “journalist who maliciously and falsely informs the citizens of Serbia” in a sponsored Facebook post on a page called “COVID 19 Serbia”, which is not the official Facebook page of the pandemic response. The page has been shut down in the meantime.

Journalist Insulted on Facebook after Publishing Article

Vreme weekly journalist Jovana Gligorijevic was targeted by insults in the Facebook comments below an article she wrote about the press conferences of the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, which have been held during the coronavirus pandemic.

Serbia Launches Official COVID-19 Info Channel on Viber

In Cooperation with Viber, the Serbian government has launched a COVID-19 information channel on this application. Citizens will now be able to better inform themselves about the virus, receive official instructions and ask questions related to COVID-19 via the Viber channel.

False Claims about Coronavirus-Infected Prisoners

Several web portals reported about a statement from a noted lawyer who claimed that there are cases of coronavirus-infected prisoners in the country who are not being given any medical assistance. The authorities later denied these claims, saying that there were no such cases in prisons.

Share Foundation Called Mobile Providers to Keep People Connected to the Internet

SHARE Foundation calls on internet service providers and operators in Serbia to keep people connected to the internet, regardless of their payment status during the state of emergency. Due to the declared state of emergency and social distancing practices, it said, a huge part of citizens’ daily lives has shifted to the online environment – including education, culture, work, etc. Some segments of internet use are seen as vital during the pandemic.

Reporters Without Borders and Other Media Organisations Write to EU about Hungary’s CV-19 Legislation

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) joins eight other organisations for the defense of freedoms in order to express its profound concern about the risk that governments use the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine fundamental rights and free flow of information. The draft law discussed in Hungary is a step towards a complete repression of press freedom. Yet, the need for media scrutiny is now stronger than ever.

Read more here

Eight Mobile Phone Carriers Agree to Share Users’ Data with Commission

Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Orange and five other telecoms providers have agreed to share mobile phone location data with the European Commission to help track the spread of the coronavirus, the lobbying group GSMA said on Wednesday.

Read more here

Montenegro Ombudsman: Strict Measures Necessary

Montenegrin Ombudsman Sinisa Bjekovic said on Thursday that strict measures for preventing the spread of COVID -19 are necessary but they must be balanced with human rights.

“The degree of infection risk is high so it requires an immediate and effective response,” Bjekovic told MINA news agency.

He added that the experience of countries that went through a surge in cases before Montenegro show that “less restrictive measures did not produce the expected results”.

Serbian Ministry Publishes Deceased Patients’ Medical Data

The Serbian Health Ministry published a statement on its website which included information about other illnesses from which two people who died from complications caused by the coronavirus had been suffering. The two people were identified by their initials and year of birth.

Hungarian Coronavirus Bill Will Have “Chilling Effect” on Media

The bill submitted last week amends rules under a state of emergency to give the government the power to rule by decree and suspend any existing law. It would permanently amend the criminal law to introduce punishment of one to five years in prison for anyone convicted of spreading “falsehood” or “distorted truth” deemed to obstruct efforts to combat the pandemic.

Read more here

Serbian Courts to Try Defendants via Skype

The Serbian Justice Ministry said on Thursday that courts that will conduct proceedings against people who violate self-isolation measures via video link.

“The ministry informed the courts that it is necessary for their IT staff to provide the necessary conditions to enable proceedings against people violated the self-isolation measure to be conducted. This implies that the courts have cameras and a microphone installed and a Skype program on them,” the ministry said in press release.

According to the ministry, there are 108 people in custody for violating self-isolation measures: 44 in Vrsac, 43 in Pozarevac and 21 in Pirot.

Montenegrin Prosecutor Warns Against Violating Restrictions

Special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic said on Thursday that prosecutors are working on cases against “those who do not respect government measures to combat the epidemic”. He told Dan newspaper that prosecutors would also tackle any cases of people “spreading panic” amid the coronavirus crisis.

Concern for Rights in Montenegro amid COVID-19 Fight

Montenegro, a country of some 630,000 people, has at least 29 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and one death. Since the outbreak, police have stepped up action against those accused of spreading false information and, ignoring the protests of opposition and rights organisations, published the names of people required to self-isolate due to the virus.

The country, which has been run by the same party for the past three decades, has a long record of restricting human rights and violating data privacy rights.

Activists fear the government will exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to clamp down further. The government says its overriding priority is to protect the lives and health of Montenegrin citizens.

Read more here

Slovakia to Collect Phone Data to Fight Coronavirus

Slovakia’s new government has proposed coronavirus legislation that would allow it to impose emergency measures in the judiciary, social care system and sphere of digital rights.

Parliament has already approved a law allowing authorities to collect data from people’s phones and trace contacts who may be infected with COVID-19. The law passed on Wednesday is only valid during the state of emergency, and until December 31 at the latest. Its use is restricted to tackling the pandemic.

The state aims to collect data in an anonymised form so it can collate statistics and provide key information to help the Public Health Office trace and test people with possible infections.

Website Ordered to Close for Publishing Fake News

The Interior Ministry has ordered the closure of website breackingnews.xyz after it repeatedly published fake news, creating panic through disinformation amid the coronavirus pandemic. The website was generated outside Romania and authorities could not get in touch with those in
charge.

Outcome: The website will be closed by the authorities.

Ministry Orders Removal of Online Fake News

The Ministry of the Interior on March 25 ordered the “removal at source” of an online news article published by the website bpnews.ro that claimed the coronavirus can be killed using a medical drug called Polidin. Before taking this decision, the authorities contacted the website owner, who
refused to remove the content.

Outcome: The content will be removed by the authorities.

Facebook Users Misinforming About Coronavirus Test Costs

The Croatian fact-checking website Faktograf reported on March 25 that social networks users were spreading misinformation about the test for the novel coronavirus, claiming it was cheaper in Germany than Croatia. One such announcement, which claims that the test costs almost 100 euros (700 kunas) in Croatia and only 2.5 euros in Germany, has been shared on Facebook over 1,400 times. Faktograf said the test in Croatia does cost 700 kunas, but that it costs twice as much in Germany – 200 euros.

Legal Basis for Tracking Serbian Citizens Remains Unclear

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has mentioned numerous times that the state is following the movement of its citizens through their mobile devices, especially those who returned to the country after March 14.

While maintaining that reason for taking these additional tracking measures is to slow the spread of COVID19, it is still unknown which particular law gives the right to follow locations via phone to the authorities.

Mapping Attacks on Media Freedom During the Coronavirus Crisis

Index on Censorship and Justice for Journalists Foundation (JFJ) announce a joint global initiative to monitor attacks and violations against the media, specific to the current coronavirus-related crisis.

Media freedom violations will be catalogued with a map hosted in Index’s current website and on the Justice for Journalists Media Risk Map.

 

Croatian Proposal to Track Self-Isolating Citizens Alarms Critics

As Croatian MPs discussed a proposed law amendment, that would allow authorities easier access to citizens’ information amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic, opposition lawmakers warned that it could limit citizens’ rights to freedom of movement and their privacy.

Last week, the government, led by the conservative Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, proposed a change of the Electronic Communications Act under which, in extraordinary situations, the health minister would ask telecommunications companies to provide data on the locations of users’ terminal equipment.

Read more here.

COVID-19: Dealing with Gaps in the Data

The information we rely on is approximate and often errs on the side of caution (for example, the number of infected people, or deaths caused by the pandemic). It’s important to be aware of these limitations, and approach the data with caution, even if this data is the best we have, given the present circumstances. Of all official data on the global situation, that produced by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is considered among the most reliable. Nevertheless, new and more accurate studies are emerging every day, providing additional data to help understand the pandemic and its course of development.

Read more here.

Journalists and Intellectuals in Slovenia Targeted by the Defamation and Hate Campaign

A journalist, Blaz Zgaga has been the target of a smear and hate campaign since March 15 of this year and has received several death threats from far-right groups. The harassment originates from a retweet by the government of a claim that the journalist is a “psychiatric patient who escaped quarantine” via the @KrizniStabRS account (the account of the Crisis Management Centre). The retweet mentioned that three other “psychiatric patients”, including the intellectual Slavoj Zizek, were wanted as well. The retweet was deleted from the @KrizniStabRS account only a few hours later.

Nova24TV, however, a media outlet funded by the Hungarian government and whose editor- in-chief, Ales Hojs, was recently appointed Slovenia’s Minister of the Interior, accused Blaz Zgaga, among others things, of questioning the measures taken by the government to respond to the health emergency and to inform the population of news related to COVID-19.

These measures include the creation of a “crisis cell of the Republic of Slovenia” and the Twitter account @KrizniStabRS, where the retweet in question was posted. Previously, Blaz Zgaga had approached the authorities to ask for more information about the management of this “crisis cell”.

Bosnia Will Not Publish Names of Infected

The Bosnian Federal government confirmed on Wednesday that it will not publish the names of people who are infected, self-isolated or have been put under isolation orders. However, the names and addresses of those who violate isolation measures will be made public.

On March 21, the authorities in the Canton 10 area published the personal data of 238 people who had been isolated or had self-isolated, most of whom had not violated isolation orders. Following this, authorities in Trebinje, Konjic and Celic also published lists of people who tested positive for COVID-19.

Croatia Shuts Website for Fraudulently Collecting Data

A recently-launched website called samoizolacija.hr, which said it was allowing people to report others who violate the self-isolation rules designed to prevent coronavirus infection, has been shut down for fraudulently collecting personal data, Croatian police told media on Tuesday evening.

Police have launched an investigation into the site, which was asking “conscientious citizens” to enter their own personal data and information about the violator, promising to forward the information to the police. But the Croatian government pointed out that the police have their own  application for reporting such violations.

Bosnian Data Agency Issues Ban on Publishing Personal Data

Bosnia’s Personal Data Protection Agency has issued a ban for all levels of authorities to publicly reveal personal data of individual infected with coronavirus, as well as those violating mandatory quarantine and/or isolation citing Personal Data Protection Act.

This decision comes after the government of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina urged the Federal Department of Civilian Protection to consider issuing an order which would allow local authorities to publish personal data of those affected by COVID-19

Police Officers Taunt and Provoke People via Social Media

Two police officers taunted and offended people via social networks about the ongoing curfew in the country. The Interior Ministry said that the officers will be fined. In another case, the Interior

announced that another person who made similar claims on social networks was in fact impersonating a police officer, and will face a fine of up to 800 euros

 

Republika Srpska Releases Names of First to Violate Isolation Measures

Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity has launched a website containing information on the coronavirus, where they will also publish the names of people who did not adhere to Republika Srpska’s self-isolation measures.

The names of the first 30 people were released on Tuesday.

Anyone who breaks isolation measures in the country will be moved to quarantine

 

Bulgarian Govt Introduces Fines, Questionable Police Access

The Bulgarian Law on measures and actions during an emergency state was promulgated on Tuesday. Breaking the measures can result in fines in the range of 5 to 15,000 lv (around 2.5 to 7,500 euros) and 1,000 to 10,000 lv and even five years in prison for spreading misinformation, panic or making mock calls to authorities.

Businesses which have been gravely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic can have 60 per cent of employees’ wages covered by the National Social Security Institute.

Concerns have been raised as the law also states that the police now have unprecedented access to citizens’s phone and internet data, notes the website mediapool.bg.

The Fake Website Collects Information about Violators of Self-isolation Measures

A web site samoizolacija.hr (self-isolation.hr) has been launched recently, where citizens can report other citizens who violate the rules of self-isolation that have been designated to prevent coronavirus infection. The web site requires from the “conscientious citizen” to enter information about the person who violates self-isolation (name and surname, address) and the personal information of the person who is reporting. Website administrators wrote that they are forwarding this information to the Croatian police.

However, the official Twitter profile of the Croatian government kornonavirus.hr warns that such information should not be given on the website and that the Croatian police have an application “Confidence and Security” on which such violations can be reported.

Falsified Letter of Human Resources Minister Shared Widely

On March 21, 2020, Miklos Kasler, Minister of Human Resources, sent an official letter to pathologists, in which he explained the procedure necessary for examining deaths in connection to the novel coronavirus.

A falsified version of the letter is circulating on social media, which states that the number of people who died from illnesses related to COVID-19 cannot be made public, and that other diseases should be cited as their cause of death. The letter also has false information about the number of dead in the country.

Outcome: Police launched an investigation

Russian Citizen Arrested in Montenegro for Spreading Panic

Montenegrin police in the coastal town of Tivat arrested Russian citizen for spreading panic about a novel coronavirus. The Police Directorate of Montenegro said the suspect falsely posted on social media that around one thousand people were infected in Montenegro and that six people died from complications of the virus.

“She will face prosecution in Kotor,” the police said in a press release.

So far, 22 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Montenegro, and one person has died.

Republika Srpska To Publish Names of Citizens who Break Self-Isolation

Republika Srpska’s Interior Ministry will start publishing the names of those who violate the entity’s home-isolation measures beginning Tuesday.

In the last 24 hours, 2,225 people, who were ordered to self-isolate, were being monitored in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity. Twenty-seven residents were caught breaking this measure.

Authorities Accused of Lacking Transparency About Pandemic

Media NGOs in Moldova signed a common protest on Sunday, accusing the authorities of lacking transparency about the scale of the coronavirus pandemic in the country.

“Non-governmental organisations in the media ask the state authorities and institutions to ensure correct and professional collaboration with media institutions, refraining from unfounded accusations and insinuations against journalists who request public interest information to inform objectively and completely,” the petition signed by eight media NGOs says.

It comes after two cases of infected doctors from different hospitals were reported on March 19 and March 22. The authorities did not confirm them in the first phase, however. Only media outlets reported about them.

The authorities have also avoided giving out precise data on medical supply stocks and specific numbers related to the pandemic.

Read more here.

Bosnian Fined for Instagram Post about Virus

A woman from Bosanska Gradiška was fined 1,000 marks (500 euros) fine for “causing panic and disorderly conduct” during emergency measures imposed to tackle the coronavirus in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity. The woman claimed on Instagram that the local government was hiding the fact that another person from Bosanska Gradiska had tested positive for COVID-19, and also accused the “fake media” and the government of acting out of political interest and not because of a health crisis.

Fake Message from Croatian Police Circulating, Requesting Personal Data

The official Twitter account of the Croatian authorities’  koronavirus.hr site, set up to provide information about the coronavirus outbreak, reported on March 20 that fake messages about Croatian Police collecting citizens’ personal data (in order to monitor self-isolation measures) is circulating in the digital environment. The sender of the message, signed as MUP HR (Croatian Interior Ministry), asks the recipient to send back personal information and a copy of a personal ID document. The authorities said however that Croatian police are not collecting personal information through mobile applications. They also urged the public to report such cases.

Hackers Step up Cyberattacks on Hospitals amid Pandemic

Cyberattacks targeting hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and distributors of medical equipment soared in March worldwide as hackers took advantage of the strain the coronavirus pandemic has put on the health sector.

Romanian cybersecurity giant Bitdefender said on Friday that online attacks linked to Covid-19 “have risen by 475 per cent in March as compared to the previous month”, and the numbers are expected to keep increasing until the end of the month.

“Almost one third of the Covid-19-related attacks target public authorities and healthcare institutions,” Bitdefender said in a statement.

One of the medical centres targeted was a hospital in the Czech Republic currently being used for tests against coronavirus.

Bitdefender’s security specialist Filip Truta said that “the cyberattack thwarts efforts in fighting the pandemic”.

Hackers usually infect computers by fooling medical institutions’ personnel with “information about medical procedures and therapies to treat COVID-19 infections”, said Bitdefender. Such messages are mostly sent in the name of institutions such as the World Health Organisation.

Tracking the Movements of Quarantined Persons Based on Phones

During a press conference held on March 19, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said that since there are “some catastrophic exceptions” regarding the quarantine measures for Serbian citizens coming from abroad, the police monitors “Italian phone numbers”. “We monitor Italian mobile phone numbers, not to spy, but to see if some people are in roaming and moving around…”, said Vučić. He also said that there is “another method” of tracking people’s movements even when they leave their phones behind.

Phishing Campaigns Exploiting Fear of COVID-19

The Croatian Interior Ministry reported on March 19 that National Computer Emergency Response Team, CERT, stated that phishing campaigns – email scam designed to steal personal information – have begun and that they are trying to exploit the coronavirus epidemic to convince users to run malicious code on their computers. According to the Interior Ministry, the title of one suspect email is "An important COVID-19 update for our community", and the sender is falsely introduced as the WHO (the template of email address is: WHO @ domain). There is also an attachment in the email named "COVID-19.img". The analysis found that by downloading the.img file to a Windows PC, a malicious file called "Chance.exe" that runs the "RegAsm.exe" subprocess will be saved and archived, which is the loader for the Trojan Horse malware infection

Fake News about New Coronavirus-related EU tenders

Fake news stories about coronavirus-related EU tenders and development policy measures are spreading on social networks and on email chain letters. Among others, a project management company has been trying to get new clients with the false information.

Bosnia’s Republika Srpska Imposes Fines for Coronavirus ‘Fake News’

The government of the Republika Srpska issued a decree that forbids causing “panic and disorder” during a state of emergency, Interior Minister Dragan Lukac told a press conference.

“In recent days, we have had various comments on social networks by irresponsible people who create fake news and cause panic and fear among citizens, which can cause various consequences,” Lukac said.

He added that “during an emergency, it is forbidden to publish false news and allegations that cause panic and severely disrupt public order and peace or prevent the implementation of measures by institutions exercising public authority”.

Individuals who are proved to have caused panic and spread false news will be fined between 1,000 and 3,000 Bosnian marks (between 500 and 1,500 euros), and firms between 3,000 and 9,000 marks (between 1,500 and 4,500 euros).

Twitter User Spreads Panic about Coronavirus Crisis

A Twitter user spread panic on the social network by claiming that part of the capital, Skopje, had become the main infected area of the city and had a large number of infected citizens. The claims have not been confirmed by health authorities.

Fake News on Coronavirus Crisis and Food Shortages

One online news portal published fake news about the coronavirus crisis and apparent food shortages. The portal claimed the country was faced a wheat shortage, and that large amounts of wheat were being exported to Kosovo. Authorities later denied the claims.

Coronavirus Patients’ Identities Exposed Online

After the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Montenegro, the infected patients’ identities were revealed in posts on social media, sparking outbursts of hate speech against them.

After Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic announced on Tuesday evening that the country had its first two coronavirus cases, the patients’ identities were published by social media users.

Photos of one of the patients and her family were also posted online.

The ethnicities and religious beliefs of the patients were then targeted with hate-speech comments by some people on social networks.

The Montenegrin Association against AIDS, CAZAS, said that that every patient has the right to privacy and medical confidentiality.

Read more here.

Person Detained after Posting Fake News on Coronavirus

On a messaging platform, a man falsely claimed that a person in a certain village had been infected by the coronavirus and then hospitalized, and that as a result, most of those in contact with the person could be also infected, making the village an epicentre of the disease.

Outcome: Police detained the man who faces criminal charges.

Citizen Held by Police for Causing Panic on Facebook

Citizen from Malo Crnice was held by the police on the grounds that he used Facebook to induce panic and disorder. The person published a photo of Serbian soldiers on his Facebook profile and added that the army and police have been deployed in his town, that bread vouchers have been distributed, that no one is paying for goods just by presenting an ID card etc.

Outcome: Citizen detained by police on suspicion of criminal act of causing panic and disorder.

DDoS Attack on Government Website on Coronavirus

The government’s official website on the epidemic was not reachable for a while. According to a government briefing, a DDoS attack on the site caused the temporary problem.

Leaked ‘Zagreb Shutdown’ Document Panics Locals

On March 15, Croatian media published a leaked document signed by the head of Zagreb’s Emergency Management Office, Pavle Kalinic, urging city authorities to shut down cafes and restaurants, gyms and sports facilities in the capital and limit the operations of shops due to the coronavirus outbreak. The National Civil Protection Headquarters has not, so far, announced any such measures, and clarified that it was important to maintain a balance between “the epidemiological situation and the severity and breadth of the measures”. Kalinic said that the document was authentic but that it leaked illegally. It was shared on social networks and via WhatsApp and caused panic among Zagreb residents who thought the measures had come into force.

Online Lessons in Croatia Hampered by Hacker Attack

CARNET, the Croatian state institution for information and communication technology in schools, reported that there have been problems with online classes for upper grades on the morning of March 15 due to a DDOS attack. Starting from March 15, all schools were closed in Croatia due to the coronavirus outbreak so pupils began taking online lesions. According to CARNET, the attack was reported to the relevant department of the Interior Ministry and “all information was provided to enable it to actively participate in the investigation”. CARNET also said its experts were doing their best to fix the problems. Police said a criminal investigation was underway to identify the perpetrators.

Government Orders Website’s Closure for False Coronavirus Stories

The Romanian authorities ordered the closure of online newspaper stiridemoment.ro after it published several false stories in the context of the coronavirus crisis, in which it erroneously reported the closure of various supermarket chains and the existence of a government plan to bring back home Romanian emigrants from foreign countries.

Outcome: The website is not functioning anymore, although the government has not confirmed it shut the site down.

Party Leader Spreads Disinformation about COVID-19 on YouTube

Laszlo Toroczkai, leader of the far-right Mi Hazank party, launched a video series on YouTube, in which he spreads disinformation about the COVID-19 outbreak that he has taken from Russian propaganda. Videos include statement such as the coronavirus was made and spread by the World Health Organization and European Union. Earlier Facebook has banned Toroczkai’s site because of similar content.

Man Detained over Claims about ‘Closure’ of Budapest

Fake news started to spread on social media that the capital, Budapest, would soon be closed due to the coronavirus epidemic. The government has repeatedly denied having such plans.

Outcome: The anti-cybercrime unit of the police identified the YouTuber, who first made the false statement about the closure of the capital. Police detained him and he faces criminal charges of threatening public danger.

North Macedonia’s President said Authorities Prevented Attempts to Spread False News

Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski said that the authorities detected and prevented several organised attempts at spreading false news regarding the coronavirus situation in the country, aimed at causing panic among the public.

Unverified “Tips” on Coronavirus Spread on Facebook

Many “helpful” tips about how to prevent and cure the coronavirus have spread on Facebook, often referencing Taiwanese and Japanese doctors.

False Information about Quarantine in Croatian Capital

Media reported that an audio recording appeared on social media saying that in 48 hours it would be announced that Zagreb was under quarantine, and that the real data on the number of coronavirus-infected people was being hidden. Government spokesman Marko Milic said the information was false and urged people not to believe inaccurate and malicious reports.

Dangerous Advice from a Non-existing Doctor Spread in the Media

Several media outlets in Serbia, including nova.rs portal, Vecernje novosti, Tanjug, published unverified information about alleged advice and findings of a microbiologist from Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID19 outbreak in China. The article has since been removed from the nova.rs website.

Article Commends Homeopathy Against Coronavirus

The official website of Acsa, a village in Pest County, published an article under the title “General Practitioner’s tip” that advised use of homeopathic remedies against the coronavirus. The author is in fact a general practitioner who has confirmed that he was the author.

Numerous Instances of Disinformation in Online and Social Media

There is a notable trend of spreading numerous misleading, false or unverified information about the coronavirus pandemic, both on news portals and social media in Serbia. Examples include stories on how there is a first patient in Serbia cured from coronavirus in Novi Sad, that there are cases of infected students in a Novi Sad medical high school, about the influence of 5G networks on the pandemic and so on.

Fake News that Migrant Brought Coronavirus to Italy

Pro-government news sites have published the already debunked fake news that the coronavirus in Italy was spread by a Pakistani migrant who refused to self-quarantine.

Fake News Regarding a Coronavirus-infected Person and a Political Party

A media website claimed that a patient infected with the coronavirus was present at a wedding of a senior party official from North Macedonia’s ruling SDSM party. The SDSM’s general secretary Ljupcho Nikolovski, whose wedding it was, later denied the claim that the patient was there.

Online Media Readers Misinformed about Coronavirus Vaccine

Online media outlet IstraIN published an article claiming that a vaccine against the coronavirus was created before the outbreak of the disease. The author said it is possible that someone planned it. According to the WHO, there is currently no vaccine against the coronavirus.

 

Continuing Online Circulation of False News About COVID-19

Various false news reports and other false information about the coronavirus pandemic have been circulating through social networks and online platforms such as WhatsApp and YouTube, including content that blames the expansion of 5G technology for the COVID-19 outbreak or blames multinational companies or foreign governments for the pandemic.

Fake News Attributed to TV Channel Makes Rounds

The news TV channel Digi24 denounced a fake caption supposedly extracted from their website that falsely identified a second case of coronavirus in Romania.

Dangerous ‘Tips’ on Coronavirus Spread on Facebook

A chain letter titled “An Italian doctor about the coronavirus – Important information” has been circulating on Facebook. It contains “tips” about the virus that have no real basis or could even be dangerous for those who take the letter seriously. An edited version of the letter was sent to pharmacies in the capital by the Budapest branch of the Hungarian Chamber of Pharmacists. Several medical organisations received the letter as well. It could also be downloaded from the chamber’s website. László Hetényi, president of the Chamber in Budapest, said he wrote the letter.

More Fake Reports About Coronavirus Circulated

Several messages of unknown origin and having in common exaggerated reports on the levels of lethality and contagion of the coronavirus are circulating among users of social networks and WhatsApp in Romania.

Spreading False Information on Deaths from Coronavirus in Serbia via an Audio Message

An unidentified person spread false information about the deaths from coronavirus in Serbia via an audio message. A criminal complaint was filed and the Police High-Tech Crime Unit is working to identify a person because of suspicion of a crime of spreading panic and riots.

Outcome: Criminal complaint filed, police working on identifying the person due to the suspicion that the criminal act of causing panic and riots was committed.

False News and Disinformation about Coronavirus

Health Minister Venko Filipche said there had been fake news and disinformation about the first coronavirus case in North Macedonia this week. Filipche denied that any cases had yet occurred in the country, calling for responsibility and warning against spreading panic when it comes to coronavirus information.

WhatsApp user Misinforms about Coronavirus

Before the official confirmation of the first cases of the coronavirus in Croatia, a message was spread through the WhatsApp mobile app by a Split citizen who claimed that the first case in the city had already been confirmed. In fact, the first case was confirmed in Zagreb, not Split, on February 25.

Photo Model Posts Racist Message on Instagram

Sylvi Bódy, a well-known photo model, posted a message on Instagram about the coronavirus, calling for the closure of the Hungarian border and referring to Chinese people with the derogatory term “ferdeszemű” [“slanted eyes”]. “I suppose, following the example of Russia, Hungary has already closed the border to Chinese tourists ?! At least I really hope so,” she wrote. “If Hungary succeeded in locking out migrants, then I hope the government is wise enough to take appropriate precautions. Little slant-eyed Chinese people are cute and all, but there are just enough of them living in our country, so sorry but thanks, we don’t want more of them. Outcome: Body apologised and deleted her original post.

Portal Spreads Lies About Danger of Chinese Tourists

After broke news of the coronavirus epidemic in China, and related information about the arrival of a group of Chinese tourists in Bosnia, the Izdvojeno.ba portal published an article filled with lies and misinformation on the virus itself and its way of spreading, while demanding a ban on the entry of Chinese tourists.

The article created unjustified fears and veered into subjective conclusion making, claiming the Chinese tourists had come to Bosnia because of an “undue display of hospitality”, while insisting that “we must ban them from staying in our country.” There are no indications that any of the tourists had the virus.